The eponymous character was inspired by the Dutch vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing from Irish author Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Distributed by Universal Pictures, the film includes a number of monsters such as Count Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and werewolves in a way similar to the multi-monster movies that Universal produced in the 1940s, such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Dracula.
Despite mostly negative reviews, the film grossed over $300 million worldwide.
In 1887 Transylvania, Doctor Victor Frankenstein creates a monster with the aid of Count Dracula, who reveals that he plans to use the creature for his own evil plans. Dracula kills the doctor as a mob of villagers storms the castle. His assistant Igor escapes, but the villagers chase the monster to an old windmill and set it ablaze. The villagers are scared off by Dracula and his brides, who witness the monster and the doctor's research apparently destroyed by the fire.
One year later, after killing the elusive Mr. Hyde at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, monster hunter Van Helsing returns to the Vatican in Rome. He learns that his mission to destroy Dracula and his amnesia are penance for unremembered sins that cause nightmares. He is tasked with helping the last of an ancient Romanian bloodline, Velkan Valerious and his sister Anna, who must kill Dracula before their ancestors may enter Heaven. Carl, a friar, provides Van Helsing with aid and weapons. In Transylvania, Velkan is apparently killed during an attempt to trap and kill the Wolf Man, and Anna is attacked by Dracula's brides shortly after Van Helsing's arrival. He saves her life and kills Marishka, one of the brides, but as the last of her line, Anna becomes more determined to kill Dracula. In order to protect her, Van Helsing knocks her out to prevent her from leaving. She awakens that night and encounters Velkan, who reveals Dracula has a dark secret, but to her horror, he becomes the Wolf Man after having been bitten by the original one earlier and attacks. After she and Van Helsing track him to Frankenstein's castle, they discover that the vampires are attempting to give life to their born-dead children, using Velkan as the source of the power. Van Helsing, dubbed "Gabriel" by Dracula, realizes they had ties in the past. Van Helsing refuses Dracula's offer to return his memory and escapes. The experiment fails, and the vampire children die, but Velkan turns on Anna as he is consumed by his curse. Van Helsing and Anna escape together.
Under the remains of the old windmill, Van Helsing and Anna encounter Frankenstein's monster. Because he is not evil, Van Helsing cannot allow him to be killed, even though he claims to be key to Dracula's experiment. The Wolf Man witnesses the conversation and escapes to inform Dracula. Meanwhile, Carl discovers a painting that comes to life, depicting a werewolf and a vampire battling. The group travels by carriage to Budapest, luring the remaining brides into a trap and killing Verona. The Wolf Man ambushes the real carriage and bites Van Helsing before being killed. Anna is captured and held as a bargaining chip in exchange for Frankenstein. They hide him in a crypt, but he is taken by the count's undead underlings while Van Helsing and Carl rescue Anna. Returning to the Valerious' castle, Carl discovers an inscription and creates a doorway to the castle. After failing to free Frankenstein from his imprisonment, he lets them know of a cure to lycanthropy that Dracula possesses. Carl determines that the bite of the Wolf Man is the only way to kill Dracula. He and Anna take Igor to find the cure while Van Helsing goes to free Frankenstein. Igor escapes while the final bride, Aleera, assaults Anna as Carl tries delivering the cure to Van Helsing. Igor confronts Carl on a bridge, but the confrontation sends Igor falling to his demise. Frankenstein saves Anna and urges her to help Carl and Van Helsing. She kills Aleera and arrives at the castle. As the Wolf Man, Van Helsing and Dracula battle. Dracula tries reasoning with the Wolf Man, but Van Helsing bites Dracula, who dissolves into a skeleton. Anna bursts in, causing her to be attacked and accidentally killed by Van Helsing, but not before she delivers the cure. Van Helsing returns to normal, stricken with grief over what he has done.
At a funeral pyre, Van Helsing witnesses the spirits of Anna and her family ascending into the clouds while Frankenstein's rows away on a raft out to sea. Van Helsing and Carl ride off into the sunset.
The film's original soundtrack was composed by Alan Silvestri.
Van Helsing appears in a board game designed by Fréderic Moyersoen, the creator of numerous successful board games such as Saboteur. The board game was released by Mayfair Games in 2010.
Vivendi Universal Games published a Van Helsing video game for PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC and Game Boy Advance. The game follows a similar plot to the movie, has gameplay similar to Devil May Cry and the PS2 and Xbox versions feature the voice talent of many of the actors including Hugh Jackman.
Van Helsing also features in a slot game produced by International Game Technology. The game is available in real world casinos and online, though users in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and the US are excluded from playing the online games.
The film opened at #1 in the weekend of May 7–9, 2004. The film grossed US$300,257,475 worldwide of which US$120,177,084 was from the US.
Van Helsing received mostly negative reviews by critics. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 23% of 213 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 4.2/10. The site's consensus reads: "A hollow creature feature that suffers from CGI overload." Metacritic rated it 35/100 based on 38 reviews. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film 3 stars out of 4 stating that "At the outset, we may fear Sommers is simply going for f/x overkill, but by the end, he has somehow succeeded in assembling all his monsters and plot threads into a high-voltage climax. Van Helsing is silly, spectacular and fun."
Sommers expanded the story of Van Helsing in two direct spin-offs:The animated prequel titled Van Helsing: The London Assignment takes place before the main events of the film, focusing on Van Helsing's mission to try to stop Jack the Ripper from terrorizing London.
There is also a one-shot comic book, published by Dark Horse Comics, titled Van Helsing: From Beneath the Rue Morgue, that follows Van Helsing on a self-contained adventure that occurs during the events of the film, just after the death of Jekyll/Hyde in Paris but before Van Helsing returned to Rome. In the adventure, Van Helsing deals with Doctor Moreau and his hybrid mutants.
Reboot and shared universe
In May 2012, Universal Pictures announced that they are rebooting the film with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci as a two-year deal to produce a modern reimagining and Tom Cruise to star as the title character and also produce the film. Rupert Sanders is in talks to direct the film. Orci spoken to IGN that he has hinted that both The Mummy and Van Helsing reboots will have a shared universe. On November 11, 2015, Variety reports that Jon Spaihts and Eric Heisserer will write the reboot, but Cruise left the film. However, in 2016, Cruise signed back on to star in Kurtzman's The Mummy, which was released in theaters on June 9, 2017.